Behind Closed Doors

When I was ten, I lived in the Land of Enchantment.  I caught lizards in the backyard with the boy next door, pulled myself up on top of the cinderblock wall and played follow the leader until we jumped down into the sagebrush-studded field behind my house.  One summer I planted snapdragons in the garden and played with worms while my sisters sunned themselves by the pool.  I tried to forget about being smacked across the face and tried to forget the ugly words spat at me.  I never knew where an attack would come from next – my mother, my step-father, or my oldest sister.  But it was always behind closed doors.

When I was sixteen, I lived in a quarry town in Illinois.  When my step-dad drank too much and mother bitched too much, they fought, and I sat at the top of the stairs rocking and listening, clenching my hands, ready to intervene or call the police, while my siblings hid in their rooms behind closed doors.   I was the warrior that stood in between my siblings and my parents.  I was the healer when they were in pain.  There was a library four blocks from my home and forest preserve beyond that.   Whenever I could, I escaped into the woods and the pages of Stephen King, wishing I had powers like Carrie White or Charlie McGee.

I attempted to spill open in a journal that my sister eventually found and read and burned in our fireplace. None of the insults she hurled at me every hurt as much as watching my words burn.  I stopped journaling for a long time after that.  And yet, the words that burned inside me wouldn’t be silenced and I began a 30-year love affair with letter writing to my friends.  They could not steal what did not stay.

In high school, I wore the mask of a high achiever.  Honor’s Student.  State Scholar.  National Honor Society Member. National Science Olympiad medal winner.  I graduated in the top 7% of my class.  It was higher before the drama intensified.   It didn’t mean anything to anyone though.  I was still the scapegoat of the family and the whipping girl.  My only sin was seeing beneath the veil of lies and holding up a mirror to the family dysfunction.  I kept grinding away at my studies, a quiet rage and humiliation burning in my belly that helped me to survive.

I put myself through a local college, writing essays to earn small scholarships, because, despite my bright future and hard work, my mother refused to let me go away to university, explaining I’d probably party, drop out, and marry like my younger sister went on to do 12 years later.  Instead, I got my first microbiology job when I was a junior while taking a full class load in biology, chemistry, and calculus.  It didn’t mean much.  I was still a punching bag.

I ran away three times.

Once when I was 18 for a night.  I walked ten miles that day, seriously considered hitchhiking to my father’s in Colorado, but then remembered Stephen King’s The Stand and thought twice about a cross-country trip by myself.   I ended up at my ex-boyfriend’s house and his parents gave me sanctuary for the night.  I intended on taking all the sleeping pills I bought just before, but instead, I only took two and had nightmares.

Once I left when I was 22 for two months when my mother was verbally attacking me about my boyfriend when I was working for her in her deli.  She called to coerce me to come back home.  When that didn’t work, my grandfather wrote me a letter telling me I was an incorrigible ingrate and he was going to disown me, thanks to my mother’s lies.  My grandmother joined in and wrote me a Catholic guilt-laden letter.  The only reason I went back home was on account of my boyfriend’s father having been laid off and started drinking in the middle of the night.  I figured the devil I knew was better than the devil I didn’t.

The day I left home for good was the day my mother had her hand at my throat. At 24 years old, I was pushed up against the hallway wall, with her other hand poised to hit me. I raised myself up, stared defiantly in her eyes, offered my cheek to her, and said, “go ahead and hit me, you know how much I like it.”  She dropped her hand, told me that if I didn’t have my things moved out by three pm, she was going to throw them all out on the lawn.  My only sin?  Intervening in the fight she was having with my 25-year-old sister about her boyfriend (who she is now married to).  I hit the glass of a picture frame with a clenched fist and when she turned to me, I laughed at her maniacally.

That was the last day she ever laid a hand on me, but it was not the last of her attempts to manipulate, humiliate, and control me from a distance.  My younger sister, the last and most enmeshed one, took over the abuse on behalf of my mother in the years since.  Catholic guilt and a strong desire for family ties, plus the financial help she gave if I behaved, kept me chained to my family much more than it should have.

It was easy to make the decision to leave my childhood home.  And much harder to heal the traumas I endured, especially since my ex-husband was dysfunctional too. His drinking and my escaping into myself kept me distracted from the recovery work I needed.   Until it all came to a series of more traumas and breakdowns that clearly showed me I couldn’t contain it all anymore.  I had some very dark nights of the soul as I white-knuckled my way through them.  Therapy, support groups, art journaling, photography, making art, and most recently, being embraced by a community of creatives all made a positive impact in my life.

I am not who my family said I was.

I’m here, on the other side of trauma, recovered and yet still recovering from the residual effects of trauma, living life as best as I can as our ecosystems crumble and our political dramas rage on and my children struggle with their anxieties and existential depression.   Loving those who let me, if only a little while.

Where to, from here?  I don’t know.  It’s the biggest question I have right now.  And I don’t have the answer just yet.


“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything.”

~ Rainer Maria Rilke

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I won’t be afraid.

I feel traumatized a day after this 2016 election, but I won’t be afraid.

When the first state wins pointed to Trump, I just knew that Clinton was going to lose.  I cried, hard, at what this might mean for our country.  I stayed up as late as I could, watching the updates as one by one the states fell to Trump.

For the record, I wanted Bernie, but I was warming up to a Clinton presidency, mostly due to her policy intentions with regards to global warming and LGBT rights.

I woke up this morning to read that a thoroughly incompentent, xenophobic, racist, mysoginistic, orange, reality TV star just became president.  Though it sickened me, I am not surprised one bit.

I knew it was a possibility, but I was sincerely hoping I was wrong.

And what did I tell the children?

I sat each of my daughters down today before they went off to school and told them that I want them to continue to do what they have always done: to stand up for those who are bullied, to speak up when they see something wrong, to care for those who are being harmed by others.

That I will do everything to protect them from harm.

And I will teach them, as I always have

To love and to love and to love.

John 13:34

34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.

I may have turned away from my Catholic origins, but I have not turned away from this one simple command, which now brings me comfort.

We cannot fight hate with hate. We can only fight hate with love.

We cannot fight darkness with more darkness. We can only fight darkness with light.

This home will be a safe haven for anyone who needs it.

I will continue to raise my daughters to be loving supporters of Blacks, Muslims, LGBT, Native Americans, Mexicans and any other oppressed group of people.

All are welcome here in my home.

I will continue to teach my daughters to think for themselves, to stand up for themselves and their classmates in need.

I will teach them to seek understanding before making judgments.

I will teach them to maintain hope in the presence of fear.

I will continue to teach them to have compassion, even for those whose opinions they don’t agree with.

I want to say I’m scared. But I’m not. I mean, I was scared, yesterday.

But now, more than that, what I am is determined.

I am determined that despite this totally f-ed up situation, I will not let my daughters down.

I will love and I will love and I will love.

And if I see anyone being abused, I will fight for them. I will do what I have always done and intervene.

I will speak up. I will get between the abuser and the abused if I have to and I will make it stop. Just as I have in the past (numerous times).


I did not, can not, and will not turn a blind eye.



Posted in activism, adult survivors of abuse, Compassion, Fear, Grief and Loss, Love, Radical Acceptance, Radical forgiveness, Trauma | Leave a comment

The end of the life that I once had.

It’s nearly over.

A few amendments to the divorce settlement agreement and my 19 year marriage will come to an end and that chapter of my life will be closed.

We didn’t argue much about the settlement.  We divvied the assets and debts ourselves and had figured out a child visitation schedule on our own but just had the lawyers draw up our wishes (though I know they hoped we’d fight a little more).

After 3 years of therapy, a year of al-anon and adult children of alcoholics meetings, I realized, there was nothing we could really do to repair the extensive damage we caused each other over the years.

But that recognition has been my freedom, too. I know in my heart, I had explored all the avenues for help I could find and could finally learn to let go.

If two dysfunctional people are put together for the purpose of triggering each other’s deepest wounds so they might finally be exposed and then healed, I think we’ve accomplished that goal, and then some.

But we weren’t meant to be together over the long haul.  My healing taught me how to let go of what wasn’t working for us.

We were married on July 5th, 1997. The day after my old favorite holiday. Every year for the longest time it was awesome to celebrate our anniversary with fireworks.

I’m hoping we could have the paperwork be filed on October 31st.  I think that would be fun.  🙂

As glad as I am to be nearing the finish line, I’m bawling my eyes out.

I haven’t cried in a few months, but it feels good to surrender to it. To let that pain of failure out and grieve and when the tears dry, to remind myself I was only half of the problem and I could only be half of the solution. I did all that I could to get us help, but it was a little too late.

For the record, I don’t hate him, he doesn’t hate me.  We even care what happens to each other.

We still help each other out to the best of our ability, both emotional and financially. We are working together in the best interests of our daughters.

And I’ve been quiet on the blog because I’ve just been working hard at my new job (what new job you asked?  Oh yeah, it’s been a while…) and taking care of my daughters and mowing the grass and taking care of the house and trying to be loving.

But I will be returning to a more regular posting schedule, I think.  I hope anyway.  I miss my writing outlet.

Anyway, if any of my blogging friends are still out there, how have you been?  I miss our conversations.

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On decoupling

I’m finally up for the task of taking the wedding photographs out of the frames I put them in 18.5 years ago.

I’m tearful, but handling it okay.

I’m handling the pictures carefully, almost reverently, and paying attention to the hopeful glow that once graced our faces.

Who would have known the marriage would have been fraught with so many challenges, which neither of us were adequately equipped to handle?

Coming from divorced parents, I knew marriage was hard. I knew I wasn’t sure I was up for the challenge and almost elected not to get married.

We both came from dysfunctional families of origin.

And in the early days, that made us cling to each other all the more. It was us against the world, an attitude that was part of the problem as we kept much of our problems hidden from other people, who may have been able to give good counsel, before things got a helluva lot worse.

Slowly, over the years, difficult events started eroding our connection. We tried, in various ways, to revivify the marriage, which helped us temporarily reconnect and block out the problems, but eventually too many events happened that stacked the deck against us.

We couldn’t reverse the damage we’d done to each other.

I know we tried. We tried hard.

But sometimes, no matter how hard you want something to work out, it just doesn’t.

This process of decoupling and coming to terms with all that’s happened in my life hasn’t been easy, and I suppose it’s not supposed to be easy.

But I also know that doing this now will make it easier to move forward.

Even after all this pain, I know that I’m still hopeful.

I’m willing to get rise back up after falling down hard.

I have some wonderful new friends.

I have a wonderful new partner.

We are putting to good use the lessons we’ve learned.

The biggest lesson we’ve come to learn is this:

Kindness matters.

With it, a great deal of life’s difficulties can be alleviated.

And I want to do my part to be kind as others have been kind to me during this sometimes glacially slow process of digging out from under.

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On learning and growing

There was a facebook meme a friend of mine posted today that resulted in a conversation I want to record here.

The original meme was this:
“I have this stupid f*cking desire to fix broken people because I understand them and wish that someone would come along and fix me so that I could maybe that person for them.” 

There was some thoughts shared and one in particular between another woman and I which I liked very much.   I wanted to share it here, so a) I know where to find it again, and 2) as a reminder to myself.

Me:  I don’t see people as broken or not or in need of fixing or not. There are people who want to grow, and others who aren’t ready to. If someone is dedicated to learning from their experiences and is committed to growing as a person, they will be the kinds of people you want to keep in your circle. When you are committed to learning and growing, you will start recognizing these types of people. When you are committed to learning and growing, you will start valuing how you spend your time and your resources. Take this time and learn what it is you need to work on.

Most people have shame-based core issues that they need to confront and heal (for example, if you feel unlovable, not good enough, not important, defective, unworthy of good things/love/money/success etc). Start with those basic things. Shame is the #1 obstacle to growth. Shame keeps us from leading our best lives. It holds us back in innumerable ways and it’s why we procrastinate or shy away from good opportunities. Shame is also the biggest reason people turn to addictions – both substance addictions and “process addictions” (addictions to gambling, eating, spending, sex, work, emotional drama, and I might add, helping other people, too). Anything we continually use to help us avoid looking at and working on our own areas of shame can be considered an addiction.

You can be kind, you can lend a supportive ear, but you can not heal someone else’s shame-based core issues any more than they can heal yours. That’s an inside job.

A: I don’t usually think in the terms stated in the original post that started this whole conversation. I’m quite a bit deeper than that so I truly do appreciate your thoroughness. Thank you for that depth. 

Me: You are very welcome. I’ve been on a path of learning and growing for many years now. Different sources say the same thing. There are different approaches to getting at these core issues, but the beauty of it is that as long as a person wants to learn and grow, they can. They will find the approach or combination of approaches that will work for them. There is no right or wrong way to do it. We can encourage each other to keep going when the going gets tough, but the hard work is done on one’s own.

And oh, yeah, the concept of “broken” vs. “whole” can be an obstacle, too. When progress doesn’t happen fast enough, some people will get discouraged and feel they are “too broken” to heal. Which is a dangerous notion and which is why it’s much better to ditch the whole concept of broken/whole. We need to integrate the experiences that cause us to feel shame, that’s all. It’s recognizing that regardless of what you’ve done or has been done to you in the past, you aren’t defined by those experiences.
You are still worthy of good things.
And yes, I am.
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